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Thursday, 19 October 2006

Bush Poetry

Bronze Spur Awards 2006

First - Graham Fredriksen "Just Bushmen After All"
Second - Kelly Dixon "Foolscap Tombstones!"
Third - Milton Taylor "Bush Justice"

JUST BUSHMEN, AFTER ALL

Graham Fredrickson

Wool prices fell in 'ninety-two
the squatters cut their rates,
but we were Union, through and true -
and mates stood hard by mates:
"The shed's will all be Union shorn -
our liberty's for grabs! "
We struck! The battle lines were drawn! -
the squatters brought in 'scabs'.
And in an act of vengeance rash,
grim Anarchy took hand:
the 'Dagworth' shed reduced to ash -
Rebellion swept the land.

Down came the special constables,
non-Union men in tow;
and oh! to hear the Union yells -
where blacklegs all can go!
They were a ragged, motley lot;
we spat as they filed by,
for it was our jobs they had got -
the temperature was high.
Between our picket lines we eyed
them - sullen, dull, unkempt;
our flag of Mateship flew beside
the banner of Contempt!

Unkempt and hungry - desperate,
downcast and piteous -
but has I owned the truth of it,
they looked a lot like us:
They wore the holey boots we wore;
their pants were patches, too;
and judging by the swags they bore,
they knew the tracks we knew,
All through the West the times were hard -
there's men who starved in them;
should we who held a Union card
another's needs condemn?

Then, in their sorry ranks, I spied
Jim Clarke - he'd been my mate;
we'd tramped from Bourke the Darling side
the spring of 'eighty-eight.
Same old felt hat, a toiler true -
he passed, eyes down in shame -
pre-Union days, the best I knew
in all the shearing game.
A wife and seven kids to feed;
Depression and Despair;
Responsibility, not Greed,
had brought Jim Clarke to there.

.......Some names were thrown; a vicious oath;
there hung a heavy pall;
our number jeered, yet I was loth
to join the caterwaul -
for I knew Jim and I were both
just bushmen, after all.

Foolscap Tombstones!

Kelly Dixon

With fading ink brandings, and covered in dust,
Forgotten up here on this shelf out of view --
All these old station journals and cheque lists and such,
Naming those 'pound-a-week' people I knew.

The names of old ringers and fencers and breakers,
Camp cooks and drovers, a house maid or two -
Firing old memories, these old station journals,
Are shrouding the names of bush people I knew.

Names long forgotten b y company shareholders,
Written in ledgers up here on this shelf -
Cheque-butts bear witness to 'pound-a-week battlers'
Who did precious little to better their self!

Names of hard toilers, bad boozers and brawlers,
There are one or two names of good horsemen I knew,
Indelibly etched in these old station journals --
Abandoned, and bound by a ribbon of blue!

Copies of records required by Head Office --
Monthly reports from a man held "in trust".
Fragile old entries on musty old foolscap,
Now home for red hornets, and red Cooper dust.

Credits and debits, in copperplate penciling,
Statements of earnings and entries in red,
Adjustments, corrections, reversals and after-thoughts,
Mentions of musters and days that are dead.

Close to my hand lies a volume of history --
Listing some names, seldom spoken, deceased -
Dead though they may be, today they come back to me,
Reading these pages, all dust-marked and creased!

And who in Head Office now values this history --
History with which these old journals are filled?
How many shareholders still drink to the memory
Of the pound-a-week ringer, a station horse killed?

The bush-bred young housemaid, now where has she wandered?
The scribe who composed these four-weekly reports?
Just where is the dogger, the drover, the blacksmith,
And others who form a parade through my thoughts?

Oh! old station records all tattered and dusty --
Though banished from sight here, neglected, alone --
You are fragile, yet stronger than flowery epitaphs,
Man ever chiselled on marbled headstone!

Well, I'll dust you and mend you and care for you now,
I'll place you out there at the front, in full view --
And every so often I'll come by and squander
Some time with these 'pound-a-week people' -- and you.

BUSH JUSTICE

Milton Taylor

He sat on a train; stark evidence plain of a bushman right out of his place,
Was clearly defined on the old, wrinkled, lined, tanned skin of his knockabout face.
Here in town for the Show; nine down, one to go, was his quota of days in the city,
He'd found it a test and would soon head back west, not one day too soon, more's the pity.

"What ya' doin, old man?" So the dialogue ran from a surly faced lout in his teens,
With his back to front cap and his ghetto-talk crap and baggy three-quarter length jeans.
With his gang in support; (two hooligans short of good manners and plain common sense.)
His confidence grew and he certainly knew it was prime time to launch an offense.

"You've taken me seat. Now get up on your feet, because me and me mates own this train.
Hand over your bag you stupid old slag or we'll bash ya'. You hearin' me plain?"
The bushie stood up and he cringed like a pup that knows when it's in for a beating,
And far from dismissive, was meekly submissive, and like a weak lamb, started bleating.

"Oh don't hit me, boy. Please don't hit old Roy. I never knew this was your seat.
I'm harmless, I tell you. Got nothing of value, I'll sit somewhere else, she'll be sweet.
My bag's all I got and there isn't a lot inside there you'd fancy, I'll bet you.
If you stir up my mate, then he'll get in a state and then you'll be sorry. He'll get you".

"That ain't gunna work, you crazy old jerk! You ain't got a mate, you're alone.
So give it to me 'cause I'm takin' it see? And give me your wallet and phone."
With disaster now looming, the meek, unassuming old bushmen continued to fake it,
Then opened his case with a smirk on is face and yelled to the thug "O.K.! Take it!"

Then the goons heard him shout as a serpent flew out of the bag like a jet propelled streak.
And they saw their mistake, as a deadly brown snake struck swiftly at each pimply cheek.
A chorus of terror highlighted the error the gang had in folly enacted,
As they scrambled in fear through the train it was clear, bush vengeance was being exacted.

With his snake in his hand, Roy, now in command, held a threat he seemed sure to deliver,
And the hoons, screaming more, leapt out through a door as the night train crossed over a river.
Next day in the Press they reported a mess discovered by kids walking dogs.
Three bodies lay dead in the dry riverbed mixed up with some debris and logs.

"BOYS DEAD", headlines screeched and their message beseeched that the person who'd
witnessed this act,
Come forward and state how those kids met their fate. Foul play? Or a suicide pact?
Perhaps murder, some thought, and a coroners court would surely reveal the full story
Of the mystery there. A juvenile dare? Or youth in pursuit of some glory?

On page four, tucked away in the paper that day was a wrap-up regarding the Show,
Where praise had been spoken and all records broken, ensuring its status would grow.
And earning a mention for drawing attention, the show crowds had voted the best
Sideshow of all was that of Roy Hall, with Roy's Reptile Show from the West.

CAMOOWEAL FACTS

The explorer William Landsborough was the first European to pass through the Camooweal area. At the time (1862) he was looking for Burke and Wills. His reports led to the area being settled by pastoralists but it wasn't until 1884 that the town of Camooweal was gazetted. It grew as a service centre for the surrounding properties but the growth of Mount Isa meant sustained growth was not possible.

Last Updated ( Friday, 20 October 2006 )
 
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